By Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.
As you plan for intentional older adult ministry, keep in mind that every older adult is a unique individual and one ministry idea does not meet all needs. Be sure to identify needs and plan ministry accordingly. Listed below are selected ministry ideas or “Best Practices” with older adults.
Adult Day Services: Develop a one-day or several-days a week Adult Day Care at your church for older adults who need specialized care for working caregivers.
Advertise in Local Theatre & Senior Citizen Center: Advertise your older adult ministry in the local theatre, Senior Citizen Center, local restaurants, and other places older adults congregate.
Caregiving: Older adults provide direct care for people having difficulty with activities of daily living (ADLs): walking, dressing, getting to/from bed, going shopping, and preparing meals.
O.A.P – Children of Aging Parents: Provide support, networking opportunities, and resource information for adult children of aging parents.
Companion Services: Older adults accompany other older adults for visits to the doctor, dentist, pharmacy, grocery store, etc., helping them along the way.
Exercise and Fitness Classes: Older adults participate in “low impact” aerobics class, “Body Recall,” or some other form of exercise designed for older adults.
“Faith Care Connections”: Train volunteers to provide respite care on Sunday mornings for “homebound” or “home-centered” seniors so primary care provider can attend Sunday morning worship services.
Field Trips: Older adults take educational and informational, recreational, mission study, or work mission trips.
Flowers for Homebound and Nursing Home Residents: Following worship services, altar flowers are taken to homebound and nursing home residents.
Foster Grandparents: Older adults share their lives with children and youth who have few or no extended family members living in the community.
Game Day: Once a week or monthly, hold a game day for older adults (include games that involve mental stimulation).
Helping Hands: Older adults maintain a church food and clothing pantry.
Home Maintenance and Minor Repair: Older adults with skills help others by painting, changing light bulbs, mowing lawns, home chores, carpentry, etc.
Homebound Sunday School Class: Homebound class members participate in Sunday school with other older adult members by use of a speaker phone.
Homebound Worship Participation: Homebound members read scripture, offer Morning Prayer, or participate in other liturgy acts by telephone hooked up to church sound system, or by videoing in advance, or by “Skyping.”
House Sharing: Older adults share housing with college students in exchange for chore service, minor home repair, cooking, and laundry, etc.
Intergenerational Retreat: Invite older adults and youth to participate in a retreat together. Plan for games, meals, Bible study, and sharing.
Kitchen Band: Invite older adults to make musical instruments from household and other common materials. Play at nursing homes (and other long-term health care settings), retirement communities, church functions, etc.
“Latch Key Kid” Ministry: Older adults provide after school program, including tutoring and mentoring opportunities for children.
Library: Resources on Aging Issues: Place in your church library older adult reading material, including audio and large print books.
Life Review: Older adults participate in life review and reminiscence classes.
Living History: Older adults share their life journey and faith story on tape (video and/or audio), in writing, and orally in worship and Sunday school class.
Lunch Partners: Invite older adults to eat a meal once a week with a homebound member in his/her home.
Marriage Enrichment: Older married couples lead and participate in marriage enrichment programs (both intragenerational and intergenerational).
Meals: Older adults provide meals for homebound, following hospitalization, participate in Meals-on-Wheels, group meal programs, etc.
Mentoring: Invite older adults to serve as mentors for children, youth, and other adults (e.g., youth during confirmation and for new church members).
Multigenerational Study Groups: Invite children, youth, and adults to study and learn together. This might include Bible topics and/or current events.
Mutt Ministry: Many older adults love dogs, cats, and other small animals yet are unable to care for them. This ministry shares the love of gentle animals.
Nursing Home Sunday School Class and VBS: Invite older adults to participate in a Sunday School class in nursing homes and Assisted Living settings and lead Vacation Bible School for residents
Older Adult Choir: Invite older adults to form a choir. Sing at church, nursing homes, retirement communities, and for homebound. Plan special events such as Christmas caroling throughout the community.
Older Adult Newsletter: Create a newsletter especially for the older adults in your congregation. Invite older adults to submit articles and include announcements about meetings and events.
Parish Nurse Ministry: Provide a health care ministry for older adults, including blood pressure check-ups and visitation of hospital discharged members
Recognition Service and Dinner: The congregation sponsors a special dinner, worship service, or other celebration to honor the faith, wisdom, ministry and service of older adults. The United Methodist Church designates the month of May as a special time to recognize older adults.
Ritual for Older Adults Moving from their Homes: Older adults visit with others moving from their home to long-term health care facilities. Share in prayer, scripture, song, Holy Communion, and words of remembrance and thanksgiving for the years spent in the home. Follow up in new home.
Senior Bulletin Board: Place a large bulletin board in a strategic location where older adults congregate in the church. Post announcements about events, job opportunities, and photos of recent activities and events on the bulletin board.
Senior Devotional Booklet: Invite older adults to compile a devotional book of scripture readings, meditations and prayers for congregational use.
Senior Theater: Invite older adults to practice and perform skits and plays for the church and community.
Senior Yearbook: Invite older adults to create an annual yearbook, include photos and pictures of activities throughout the year.
Shepherd’s Center: Older adults participate in ecumenical ministry meeting needs: life maintenance, life enrichment, life reorganization, life transcendence.
Short Term Mission Trips: Older adults participate in short-term mission projects (e.g., Habitat for Humanity and VIM).
Social Networking with Seniors: Start a blog, Facebook page, or other social networking activity with older adults.
Stephen Ministry: A specialized visitation program whereby older adults visit people who are ill, homebound, and institutionalized or have other needs.
Sunday Afternoon Worship for Homebound: Monthly, quarterly, or twice a year, conduct a special Sunday afternoon worship service (include Holy Communion), for homebound members in the church sanctuary.
Telephone Reassurance: Older adults make daily telephone calls to “homebound” or “home-centered” members.
Transportation Ministry: Older adults and/or the church members provide transportation for seniors to attend worship and other congregational activities.
Visitation Ministry: Older adults visit other older adults who are homebound, lonely, hospitalized, institutionalized, and dying.
Weekday Bible Study: Invite older adults in your church and from your community to participate in a weekday Bible Study (include refreshments, joys and concerns, singing and prayers).
Writing Letters and Sending Cards: Older adults write personal letters and send birthday, anniversary, and special remembrance cards to others.
(Adapted from The Graying of the Church by Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources, 2004)